A reader writes:
I couldn't disagree more with your reader. When did African Americans become truly free? Was it when they were liberated from slavery and given their own land - 40 acres and mule? Or was it when, in the 1960s, they finally gained a truly equal chance to vote?
I think the reader who wrote that "free enterprise comes before voting" misses Rick's point.
No one is arguing that the current capitalist system doesn't create the wealth that the government relies to tax and spends on public works. But capitalism can't run without government, something that many of your friends have written about over at the American Conservative. Whether or not that government is democratic or not is not the point. A central public regulatory body is necessary for free enterprise to properly function: think of the role of the Federal Reserve in regulating interest rates, printing money, controlling inflation, etc. Regulatory bodies and legislation are responsible for preventing insider trading and fraud. Free markets need government to properly function. Otherwise capitalist economies would descend into chaos.
People like Hertzberg (and me) also believe that private property and free enterprise are incredibly adept at generating wealth, but we also believe that governments are often required to ensure protect the public from the singular aim of the profit motive. That's why you have government bodies test local water supplies; that's why you have the FDA and the EPA; that's why you have a minimum wage and worker safety regulations; that's why you have even the minimum amount of a social safety net. These things are actually good for economic growth, as they mitigate the effect a recession or depression can have on the economy, especially with regard to consumer spending, foreclosures, etc. Taking care of families in poverty, giving them a means to education, lifting them up to the middle class so that they can buy products and pay more taxes to pay down the debt; that can't be bad for capitalism, can it?
There is no such thing as "pure" capitalism (show me a capitalism without need for government and I'll show a country with a government and no need for an economy). The two need each other. I think you and Rick are pretty close on this and most things - the difference I would say is only one of degree.
What I would say is that economic liberty and political liberty are very closely intertwined, and being vigilant against excessive government is as vital as being vigilant about negligent government. But as an historical fact, Anglo-American political freedom emerged from the rise of the economic freedom and power, i.e. wealth, of the aristocracy versus the monarchy, then the bourgeoisie vs the aristocracy, then the working classes in an industrial society. And a high-taxation state that reduces its citizens to economic dependents on its beneficence saps the independence and self-interest vital to political freedom.